The need for audiologists will explode over the next several decades as the baby boom generation ages, according to data from the Occupational Outlook Handbook for 2010-2011.1 Spurred on also by greater awareness of hearing health care, experts expect the demand for audiologists in the United States to grow 25 percent by 2018.
Despite this rosy occupational outlook, qualified students are not enrolling in AuD or PhD audiology programs, especially when compared with other healthcare professions such as physical therapy, physician assistants, and pharmacy. Some physician assistants academic programs report more than 3,000 applications per year, compared with just 40 in audiology. We must ask ourselves, if students are investigating healthcare careers that have a high demand, why is there no surge of students interested in pursuing audiology?
It may be that students considering a professional career in high school or college are not familiar with audiology. Students queried by audiology professors indicate that they became aware of the profession as an undergraduate speech-language pathology student or through a family member with a hearing loss. Few students report learning about the profession through career fairs or university recruitment materials and events. If audiology is to grow as a profession and reach a variety of students, we need to reach out to grandparents, parents, and students as young as elementary school to offer early educational and formal mentoring experiences such as science fairs. We need to develop a culture of mentoring to prepare the next generation of audiologists.
WHO ARE THE MILLENNIALS?
To recruit today's generation of students, we need to understand the personalities and values of millennial students, also referred to as Generation Y. Millennials comprise 36 percent of the US population, which is the largest demographic group at this time.2 Monaco and Martin state that millennial students are the largest and most diverse generation to attend college, and they like to engage in collaborative learning opportunities, and want immediate and continuous feedback. They are a social generation that enjoys interaction with peers inside and outside of the classroom.3
Students in this generation have grown up with a strong interest in technology and collaborative teaching and learning. They tend to have strong relationships with their parents compared with previous generations of students. Their parents have a great deal of influence in their higher education decisions and career pathways.
Intentional mentoring, a formal process of guiding students, can increase the number of future students seeking a career in audiology. Many definitions and models of mentoring exist in the academic and corporate environments, according to the International Association of Mentoring.4 The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) calls mentoring “a developmental partnership through which one person shares knowledge, skills, information, and perspective to foster personal and professional growth of another individual.”5
Intentional mentoring can be done on a short- or long-term basis. The most critical aspect is that the mentoring process is planned, executed, and evaluated to collect outcomes data showing whether the desired results were achieved. Despite providing funding and interesting mentoring opportunities, long-term data are infrequently collected to determine the effectiveness of the program.
Present recruitment strategies need to take into account today's generation of students and their core values and beliefs. Pearson stated that today's millennial students value independence, flexibility, and are technologically driven.6 Millennial students want a career that not only feels professionally rewarding but that has a positive impact on society, and they are not as concerned about economic stability as past generations of Americans. Mentoring efforts must be multifaceted and embrace these values if they are to be effective with today's students.
Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube can be useful in mentoring perspective audiology students.7 Social media allow mentors and their students to engage in communication around the clock. Prospective students can be connected with audiology faculty, clinicians, and other students globally as well.
Social media allow for the profession of audiology to engage in innovative e-mentoring programs using Skype for a virtual face-to-face experience. This live interaction permits students to develop a deeper level of communication with their mentors with potential for a long-term professional relationship.
Students also employ LinkedIn, a professional networking site that provides employment resources and the opportunity to join discussion groups on various topics related to audiology. It is also a remarkable human resource networking tool to recruit the best and the brightest to a corporation or educational institution.
Although some are still uncomfortable with social networking tools to recruit students, we must move toward incorporating their communication media into our recruitment and marketing plans if we are to attract the next generation of audiologists.
AUDIOLOGY MENTORING PROGRAMS
The Academy of Doctors of Audiology started a pilot mentoring program last year that matches students from three academic institutions with ADA members in private practice. “The ADA mentoring program is designed to provide AuD students with a mentor who can provide them with real-world practice management experiences that will supplement their educational background,” said Kim Cavitt, AuD, Chair of the ADA Mentoring Committee.
The program allows students to be guided by seasoned professionals who have chosen careers in audiology private practice management. The structured mentoring program involves online surveys and webinar training on mentoring for the student and mentor. Because the pilot uses select highly motivated participants, Cavitt said potential challenges for the program may not have surfaced yet. She added that the ADA is planning to offer the program to students from other academic programs in the near future.
The Minnesota State Academy of Audiology offers a mentoring program that matches University of Minnesota students with state academy members. This relatively new program augments the knowledge and skills students are attaining in graduate education with workplace success skills, such as information on reimbursement, licensure, and dispensing practices. Similar mentoring programs may be offered through other state academy chapters once more information is gained on this new venture.
While other mentoring programs have been established over the past several years by various audiology organizations, some of these tend to be one-time events. Audiology Unplugged, offered at the American Academy of Audiology's annual meeting, allows AuD and PhD students to meet with leaders of the profession, but occurs only once a year. And although it's a beneficial learning experience, it is more professional networking than true mentoring.
ASHA offers several online mentoring programs for audiology students, including S.T.E.P.—Student to Empowered Professional. This mentoring program is open to any student interested in communication sciences and disorders, but the group gives priority to students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
The shortage of PhD teacher-scholars in audiology complicates mentoring initiatives because it may be difficult to recruit traditional PhD faculty into academic programs to teach and conduct research and other professionals would need to be recruited to teach and conduct basic and applied hearing research.
ASHA has created an online mentoring program specifically for PhD students and new audiology faculty with fewer than six years teaching experience who are building a career in academia to help reduce the shortage of PhD students. The program, known as Mentoring Academic-Research Careers, has grown in popularity over the past several years.
In addition to the dearth of PhD students, there is also a shortage of men who choose audiology as career, for either AuD or PhD degrees. The lack of appeal of careers in audiology and hearing science for men may stem from how the profession is viewed by society and its low compensation practices.
A variety of mentoring programs in other disciplines such as nursing, business, and mathematics begin in elementary school and run the gamut of formal educational programs. The caliber and commitment of the mentors and students are what separate successful mentoring programs from unsuccessful ones.
Perhaps the current cadre of audiologists will decide that our legacy will be to mentor the next generation of students so they may reap a career as satisfying and rewarding as the ones about which we are so passionate. Our intentional mentoring efforts will allow us to select students who possess the academic and interpersonal skills necessary to diagnose and treat children and adults with diverse hearing healthcare needs successfully and ultimately deliver better care.
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